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NFL Week 16

   by Larry Ness - 12/23/2004

In a place far far away and in a time long long ago, the NFC once DOMINATED the NFL landscape by winning 13 consecutive Super Bowls. Representatives of the NFC won every Super Bowl from SB XIX through SB XXXI outscoring their AFC counterparts by an average of nearly 21 PPG!....

Fast-forward to 2004 and after the AFC swept the NFC in four games in Week 15, the AFC now leads this year's interconference series 39-19 (37-19-2 ATS). The 39 wins are an all-time high (previous high was 38 wins by the AFC in 1999) but the AFC's winning percentage of .672 is still shy of the .692 mark set in 1979 when the AFC went 36-16 vs the NFC....

The early Super Bowl line saw the AFC installed as three-point favorites over the NFC and that number had moved to 3 1/2 rather quickly. However, with the injury to Philadelphia's Terrell Owens this past weekend, the line has jumped to the AFC favored by SIX!...

INCREDIBLY, heading into Week 16 action, the 2-12 San Francisco 49ers are the ONLY NFC team without a mathematical chance at the postseason. The 13-1 Eagles have clinched the home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs but with no T.O., the Eagles look an awful lot like the team that has lost the last three NFC title games. The 11-3 Falcons have clinched the second seed but this is a team that ranks ahead of only the Bears in passing yards and despite being EIGHT games over .500, has scored just 18 points more that they have allowed!...

The only other team in the NFC that has clinched a playoff berth is the Green Bay Packers. The Packers lost in Lambeau 28-25 to the Jaguars last Sunday but because Carolina, Chicago, Dallas and the NY Giants all lost, Green Bay's 'in'! What a conference! In fairness to Green Bay, it should be noted that the Pack has become just the ninth team in the Super Bowl era to make the playoffs after a 1-4 start....

Minnesota moved to 8-6 and into a tie for first with Green Bay, when the Lions long snapper short-armed an extra-point try, giving the Vikings a 28-27 win. Minnesota leads the other NFC wild card 'contenders' by two games but with a win over Green Bay at home on Christmas Eve Day, the Vikings can clinch the NFC North title they lost last year on their season's final play in Arizona....

The NFC West is somewhat of a joke. The Seahawks lead the way at 7-7 with the Rams at 6-8 and the Cardinals at 5-9. Holmgren and Martz have done two of the WORST coaching jobs in recent history and it seems hard to believe that at least one of these guys won't be back next year. I mention Arizona at 5-9 because the Cardinals can actually WIN this division!...

Follow this. The Cardinals need to win at Seattle on Sunday and then beat Tampa Bay at home in Week 17 to get to 7-9. Then the Seahawks need to lose at home to Atlanta in Week 17 AND the Rams have to finish with losses to the Eagles and the Jets (not too far-fetched there!). Under that scenario, the Cardinals and Seahawks would both finish at 7-9 with the Rams finishing at 6-10. Arizona would then win the NFC West by virtue of sweeping its season series with Seattle! Again, what a conference!...

Although the seven 5-9 NFC teams are still mathematically 'alive' for a playoff berth, it's likely that either Green Bay or Minnesota (both 8-6) plus ONE of the three 6-8 teams (Carolina, New Orleans and St Louis) will claim the two wild card berths....

St Louis is the only one of the three teams with both of its final two games at home but those games are against the 13-1 Philadelphia Eagles and the 10-4 NY Jets. Carolina is playing the best ball but must win at Tampa Bay on Sunday. New Orleans gets a break as the Saints host an Atlanta team that is expected to rest many of its starters...

Over in the AFC, Tom Brady's INCREDIBLY STUPID fourth quarter interception has almost handed Pittsburgh the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh (AFC North champs) would now have to lose BOTH of its remaining two games (the Steelers have won 12 straight!) to be in danger of not claiming the conference's top spot....

From the "be careful of what you wish for department" comes this factoid. Since 1990, EIGHT AFC teams with the No. 1 seed have lost on their home turf during the AFC playoffs! The Steelers, under Cowher, have entered the AFC playoffs three times with the No. 1 seed and lost all three years short of the Super Bowl. In 1992 they lost in the Divisional Round to the Bills 24-3, in 1994 they lost to the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game 17-13 and in 2001 they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game 24-17....

Elsewhere in the AFC, the Patriots, Colts and Chargers have all clinched their divisions. The Jets have not yet clinched a wild card berth but at 10-4, they lead the four 8-6 teams (Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver and Jacksonville) by two games....

Week 16 is LOADED with important games in the AFC. The 8-6 Ravens (the only team to beat the Steelers) visit Pittsburgh, the Chargers visit the Colts in a game featuring two 11-3 teams and the Patriots visit the Jets. The fading Broncos will try to keep their playoff hopes alive on Saturday, when they visit the Titans....

I close with a Christmas wish....

Dear Santa,

Please let the Arizona Cardinals win the NFC West at 7-9, thus becoming the first team in NFL history to win a division with a sub-.500 record. While you're at it, prove you REALLY exist by adding a second 7-9 team in the NFC postseason as a wild card.

Larry






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